If you’re like millions of people in corporate America, making a career move boils down to one thing: networking.
Networking means interacting with people to exchange information or services, specifically with the purpose of forming business relationships.
Relationships—isn’t it funny how that part of the definition seems to be missing from most networking events? That’s because people who attend networking events are almost always looking out for themselves.
Here’s a crazy thought for you: Never again attend another boring, stuffy networking event in your life. It’s a complete waste of time. I’m going to show you how to network the right way. And the key is to focus on genuine connection with people: building new relationships and strengthening existing ones.
1. Make a list of people you know.
Once you get clear on your dream job, make a list of people doing the things you want to do in the places you want to do them. Even if several degrees of separation stand in your way, write down any name you can think of. Get active! Turn over every rock and stir things up.
You know more people than you think. Review these circles to get started:
- People from previous jobs
- People in professional groups
- Social media (especially LinkedIn)
- Phone contacts
- Friend groups
Start with who you know now—especially anyone who has connections to the industry or career path where you’re headed. Jot down any and every name that comes to mind.
2. Ask your friends for more connections.
The next step is to get in touch with the people you have relationships with to create connections to other people. When it comes to landing your dream job, it’s not just about who you know, it’s also about who they know. Ask your current friends and colleagues if they can connect you to anyone who can help you get one step closer to your dream job.
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During this phase, I want you to be smiling and dialing! Call up your immediate friends, and their friends, and their friends. Say to them, “Here’s the deal, I’m looking for ____. Who do you know that you could connect me to?”
There’s an important term in sociology called weak ties. It refers to people who aren’t in your immediate circle—but they’re connected to the people you do know. Think of these people as your future allies on your job hunt. Weak ties are great for helping you find your next move because they open you up to opportunities that you don’t currently have.
Be aggressive—but not obnoxious—with this process. You might feel like an inconvenience to someone when you ask for connections. But put yourself in their shoes. If someone that you cared about came to you asking for help, you’d do everything in your power to make connections! Set aside your pride and just ask.
3. Spend time with your connections.
We’ve already established that formal networking events are a waste of time. That’s because they’re not a great place to build relationships. You don’t need to chat up a room full of several dozen people. Instead, focus on quality time and genuine conversation that will benefit both you and your new acquaintance.
Here are a few practical tips:
Go to lunch.
Yes, that means you’re buying! You need to get ready to share lots of food with your new network. During this phase, I want you to connect with as many people as possible. You need to go to everything from coffee, to lunch, to afternoon tea, to dinner. Do whatever it takes and make as many quality connections as possible.
Find ways to volunteer in the fields that interest you. Spending even just a few hours volunteering can leave a lasting impression on valuable connections.
Ask your new connections if it would be possible for you to visit their workplace or shadow them for a day. This is a great way for you to test-drive your dream job and see how much you actually enjoy it!
4. Adopt a learning mindset.
Creating a web of connections is all about having a learning mindset. When you’re eager to learn, you’ll make genuine impressions on people you’re meeting with. Ditch the traditional networking tips you’ve learned and try these instead:
Come with questions.
Yup—I want you to grab a pencil and a notebook and write down some questions. When you show up prepared, you’re telling the person you’re meeting with that you value their time and you’re ready to learn.
Here are a few examples of questions you could ask:
- How did you get your job?
- Did you need a degree, or did you learn on the job?
- What advice do you have to land a job like yours?
- What does it look like to be successful in your role?
- What are your favorite and least favorite things about your position?
- Is there anyone else you recommend I meet?
These folks deserve your respect and thanks—they don’t need to hear about how great you are. This is not a time to flaunt your abilities and accomplishments. Listen twice as much as you talk and approach your connections with humility and gratitude.
Even though you’re asking this person for their time and input, don’t just be a taker. If you aren’t able to volunteer or contribute in a tangible way, you can still add value by listening well and helping people feel heard and appreciated. Avoid focusing on your goals, and instead focus on the person you’re with as a source of knowledge and experience.
5. Follow up.
No one is sitting around wondering how they can help you get your dream job. It’s up to you to follow up and make things happen. Keep investing in the relationship by staying in touch using these practical tips:
Send an email, text or note.
Within 24 hours of your meeting, send a follow-up note thanking your new connection for their time and advice. Gratitude goes a long way in making this process enjoyable—both for you and for your connection.
Check back in later.
Your new connections are busy and driven people, so you need to put yourself back on their radar when you slip off. If you haven’t heard anything after a few weeks or months (depending on your situation), send a text or email to check in. But remember: The goal is to connect on a relational level without expecting anything in return.
Send your resumé.
A resumé without a relationship is worthless. As you build relationships, you’re creating opportunities for your resumé to actually make an impact. So, focus on the relationship, and the opportunities to share your resumé will be even more impactful. And if you haven’t upgraded your resumé since you graduated high school, then you need to download my resumé guide. It’s going to walk you through how to write and format a resumé that actually gets noticed.
6. Be patient.
Building a web of connections takes time. But I guarantee that if you’re persistent with the process I’ve laid out for you, it will work.
Think of it this way: Your dream job is behind a door of opportunity. You can’t force the door open, but you can knock. Keep knocking and the right door will open in just the right moment.
It took me nine years to get to my dream job. And one of my favorite moments on the journey came through a very weak tie. You see, I was looking to get connected in the radio industry, but cold-calling wasn’t working for me. As I racked my brain thinking of people who could help me, I remembered a lady named Elizabeth. I’d met with her a few months before as a favor to a friend (she was looking for advice on running her nonprofit). I remembered her mentioning that her brother worked in radio. I called Elizabeth up, and it turned out that her brother was the CEO of a radio station I’d been cold-calling! She was happy to connect us, and that meeting led to the very first version of The Ken Coleman Show.
Hear me on this: That story took months to unfold. I had no idea that my connection with Elizabeth would lead me to launching my dream career. I was just taking the next step, building relationships, adding value, and creating an impression that stayed with people.
You can do the same. You do matter, and you have what it takes!
Network the Right Way Using the Proximity Principle
Building a web of connections is an important step on your way to your dream job. But it’s not the only step on the journey! Check out my book The Proximity Principle to learn even more about how to build connections and find meaningful work.